Press Release

Type 1 diabetes: Gut microbiota networks may influence autoimmune processes

Neuherberg, 12th March 2014. The interactions of the gut microbiota in children with typical diabetes autoantibodies differ from that in healthy children. The fact that these differences already exist before antibodies are detectable in the blood adds to the growing evidence that microbial DNA, the so-called microbiome, may be involved in the development of autoimmune processes. Scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum München have published their findings in the specialist journal Diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes: Gut microbiota networks may influence autoimmune processes

PD Dr. Wolfgang zu Castell; Dr. David Endesfelder (Source: Helmholtz Zentrum München)

As part of the BABYDIET study, the scientists compared the composition and interaction of the gut microbiota in children who went on to develop diabetes-specific autoantibodies in their blood with data from children who were autoantibody negative. The BABYDIET study examines the nutritional factors that may influence the risk of diabetes.

Similar bacteria – different interactions

In the course of the study, the team headed by PD Dr. Peter Achenbach and Professor Anette-Gabriele Ziegler from the Institute of Diabetes Research as well as Dr. David Endesfelder and Dr. Wolfgang zu Castell from the Scientific Computing Research Unit at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, ascertained that the diversity and number of bacteria present in the gut were similar in both collectives. However, bacterial interaction networks in the gut varied significantly in the two groups - even in the first years of life, months or years before one group developed the typical diabetes autoantibodies.

Colonies of bacteria form what is known as the microbiome, and the genetic information contained within it influences the host organism. For some time, the microbiome has been associated with different diseases; the gut microbiome, in particular, is thought to play a role in the pathogenesis of metabolic diseases such as diabetes. The scientists’ findings show that not only the microbial composition but also the way in which it interacts in functional communities could affect the body’s immune system.

How is the microbiome influenced?

“A range of external factors such as diet, hygiene or even the birth delivery mode can influence both the composition of gut bacteria and the way in which the bacteria interact,” explains Professor Ziegler, who heads the study. “If we are able to identify those parameters that tend to indicate more negative microbiome characteristics, we can develop new approaches to preventing autoimmune processes – for example, in type 1 diabetes.“


You can read more about research on type 1 diabetes at the Helmholtz Zentrum München here:

Further information


For more information on diabetes studies conducted at the Helmholtz Zentrum München/ Technical University of Munich, please visit: www.diabetes-studien.de

Original publication:
Endesfelder, D. et al. (2014): Compromised gut microbiota networks in children with anti-islet cell autoimmunity, Diabetes, published ahead of print March 7, 2014, doi:10.2337/db13-1676 1939-327X


Link zur Fachpublikation


The Helmholtz Zentrum München, the German Research Center for Environmental Health, pursues the goal of developing personalized medicine, i.e. a customized approach to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of widespread diseases such as diabetes mellitus and lung disease. To that end, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. It has about 2,200 staff members and is a member of the Helmholtz Association, Germany’s largest scientific organization, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with some 34,000 staff members. The Helmholtz Zentrum München is a partner in the German Center for Diabetes Research.

The German Center for Diabetes Research e.V. brings together experts in the field of diabetes research and combines basic research, epidemiology and clinical applications. The members of the association are the German Diabetes Center (DDZ) in Düsseldorf, the German Institute of Human Nutrition (DifE) in Potsdam-Rehbrücke, the Helmholtz Zentrum München – the German Research Center for Environmental Health, the Paul Langerhans Institutes of the Carl Gustav Carus University Hospital in Dresden and the Eberhard Karl University of Tübingen as well as the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Research Association and the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers. The aim of the DZD is to find answers to unsolved questions in diabetes research by adopting a novel, integrative approach and to make a significant contribution towards improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diabetes mellitus.

The Institute of Diabetes Research (IDF) focuses on the pathogenesis and prevention of type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes and the long-term effects of gestational diabetes. A major project is the development of an insulin vaccination against type 1 diabetes. The IDF conducts long-term studies to examine the link between genes, environmental factors and the immune system for the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes. Findings of the BABYDIAB study, which was established in 1989 as the world’s first prospective birth cohort study, identified risk genes and antibody profiles. These permit predictions to be made about the pathogenesis and onset of type 1 diabetes and will lead to changes in the classification and the time of diagnosis. The IDF is part of the Helmholtz Diabetes Center (HDC).

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Scientific contact
Prof. Dr. Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental Health (GmbH), Institute of Diabetes Research, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg - Tel. +49 89 3187-3405 -